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In Trump-loving states, Democratic senators in struggle to persuade the president’s voters

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MARTINSBURG, W.VA.—Marshall Spiker, a retired factory worker in West Virginia, voted for Democratic senator Joe Manchin in the last election six years ago.

Not this time.

When he thinks of Manchin now, he said after voting for Manchin’s opponent on Wednesday in the small city of Martinsburg, he thinks about a moment during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

Manchin, Spiker said, began to rise to applaud a “perfectly good” Trump statement. Then, appearing to notice that his Democratic colleagues were not standing, he quickly sat back down.

Spiker, 70, said the video reminded him that Manchin is a Democratic Party man above all.

“I want somebody in there that wants to support our president,” he said.

Fellow Trump supporter and retiree Ken Toohey, 83, was getting a haircut at a barbershop around the corner. He said he was going to vote for Manchin again. And he said the main reason was that, in his view, Manchin isn’t hostage to his party.

“He’s a Democrat, but he goes across for Republicans. I think he does what’s right. Common sense,” Toohey said.

People like Spiker are the reason the Democrats are having such a hard time in this year’s Senate midterm elections even as they are favoured to retake the House of Representatives. People like Toohey are a big part of the reason the Democrats have a chance to, at least, hold their ground.

Democrats currently have 49 Senate seats to the Republicans’ 51 seats.

Unlike the House, in which all 435 seats are being voted on, only 35 of the 100 Senate seats are part of the midterms on Nov. 6. This year’s roster of seats happens to be a particularly bad one for Democrats.

It includes 10 seats where an incumbent Democrat is trying to get re-elected in a state Trump won in 2016. In five of those 10 — West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Indiana and Missouri — Trump won by 19 percentage points or more.

The red-state Democrats have the benefit of an energized liberal base, but they also need to persuade some Trump-loving conservatives to vote for them. That has gotten harder since their last races in 2012. The country has grown even more polarized along partisan lines, and polls suggest many Trump voters are not willing to back a senator who opposes their president.

So all five Democrats are trying to cast themselves as different from their party.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is running an ad in which she is described as “not one of those crazy Democrats.” North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is running an ad in which she says, “Democrats too often judge how we live.” Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly has gone furthest, running an ad in which he quotes Ronald Reagan and criticizes “socialists” and the “radical left.”

“The kind of thing you’d see on the internet from some Tea Party candidate,” said Cam Savage, a Republican consultant in Indiana who believes Donnelly’s ads suggest Republican Mike Braun has the momentum in the race. “I thought: ‘Holy.’ That’s telling right there.”

Manchin, meanwhile, took a high-risk substantive gamble: he was the only Democrat to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court — though he waited until it became clear Kavanaugh was safe anyway. His signs on the Martinsburg campaign office read, “Manchin: It’s all about West Virginia!”

Trump has dismissed all this as posturing. At his campaign rallies, he argues that the area Democrat is a coastal left-winger in a heartland moderate’s plaid. In Montana last week, for example, Trump attacked Sen. Jon Tester as a “super-liberal” who “talks like he’s from Montana” but “votes like he’s Nancy Pelosi.

Tester’s Twitter response: a video of himself working on his farm. (“Winding down with our harvest,” he wrote.) The message was unmistakable: whatever the president might say, Tester is a salt-of-the-earth local fella.

With the possible exception of Donnelly, the red-state Democrats have well-established personal brands. Tester’s likability was central to his victory in 2012, said David Parker, a Montana State University political science professor who wrote a book about the 2012 race. Tester, he said, has a reputation as a champion of the little guy.

Trying to unseat him, Republican opponent Matt Rosendale has “wrapped himself entirely around Trump,” Parker said. “He thinks he can ride that train. I think it’s a weakness.”

The red-state Democrats have tried their best to make their races about local concerns rather than the president. Tester and Heitkamp, whose states are highly rural, have made hay over the Trump trade policy that has led to punishing Chinese tariffs on American soybeans. Manchin has gained traction over opponent Patrick Morissey’s past work as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies, which have had a role in the opioid addiction crisis that has ravaged the state.

Tester and Manchin have consistently led in the polls, Manchin sometimes by double-digits. McCaskill, Donnelly and especially Heitkamp appear to be in more difficult races, with Heitkamp widely seen as the most likely to be defeated.

Manchin is a plain-spoken former state governor who has made a tradition of shooting something in a campaign ad. Mike Plante, a Democratic political consultant in West Virginia, said Trump’s enduring popularity in a state he won by 42 points is an obvious challenge — but that even conservative voters in the state laugh off Republican operatives’ regular claim, trotted out in three successive elections, that Manchin is a clone of Pelosi, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

“People understand that Joe has always been an independent voice,” Plante said. “Because it’s a small state, it’s an older state, and he’s been around so long, people feel like they know him. And that’s why I think he’s more immune to the same old attacks.”

Manchin’s reputation weighed heavily on the mind of Martinsburg undecided retiree David Ritchie, 68, a Republican Trump voter who said he might well choose the Democrat.

“I’m definitely leaning conservative. But they’re both conservative. Manchin generally votes conservative, surprisingly enough,” he said. “I’m looking hard at this guy Morissey. But I don’t know much about him.”

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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